A lot has changed in the months since lockdown first shut theatre curtains up and down the UK, but Encompass Productions have kept the online party going as they return with their fifth installment of Bare E-Ssentials, new writing night. It’s fresh, live theatre, made with their ‘bare’ hands (a joke that, like the format, has endured).
Episode 5, Bare E-ssentials: Far From Home is actually much closer to home or at least to ‘Homecoming’, the festival that will stage the company’s first live shows on a physical stage in 2020. Homecoming festival should be gracing the London stage in November, but first, the final act in Encompass Productions’ online saga (for a long while at least) must play out true to form in their usual hilarious, poignant fashion. As a parting (for now!) gift, there are six new plays to enjoy.
Every month, the creatives at Encompass push the boundaries of what can be streamed (live) online and Suburban Buffalo Sighting directed by Encompass regular Rachael Owens and written by Elizabeth Speckman, adds a new achievement to the list; it appears to take place outside. This short and sharp monologue delivered straight to camera finds us at the scene of a road collision between a car and a mailbox. Was a suburban buffalo involved? Jennie Delaney’s perfectly pitched, slightly crazed and pleading laugh might suggest otherwise.
The Front Line also pushes new technical boundaries for the company, with technical director Jonathan Woodhouse switching screens live to create a lockdown job interview. It doesn’t take long for the responses to Mr Davidson’s questions, delivered in a wry and well measured performance by Mark Keegan, to take a more sinister tone. At least in an online interview, it is easier to escape unscathed!
Ticking ‘monologue delivered to a camera inside a fridge’ off the list was also on the cards for this evening in Vicky Richard’s Nuns, a fun and cheeky reflection on what it might mean to be a nun now, directed by Liam Fleming. Would you quit your day job to be a nun today? It’s not such a strange suggestion as you might think and there is a lovely thoughtfulness with a touch of sadness and poignancy to Holli Dillon’s performance, as she noisily chomps through the contents of her fridge.
There is a sense at the moment that we can all relate to a lack of trust in our leaders, something which is reflected upon in Brothers in Arms, a short from the trenches by Warren Paul Glover. But what about when you lose trust in your friends, too? The twists and turns are sharp in this tense and well executed duologue.
Writer Ken Preuss, whose short play Every Seven Minutes was performed back in the June edition, returns tonight with A Dave With Destiny, as absurd and funny as his last. Dave and Destiny share a chance encounter online when their webcams link unexpectedly. Destiny is expecting a date, not a Dave. Dave is expecting an audience for his thinly sliced lunch meat. Told across two screens to hilarious effect, it is a chance encounter story for the lockdown age.
Finally, Liam Fleming who has been so far in front of the camera playing our charming, costume-changing, host, steps behind it as writer and director of Little Prizes. Last times, his monologue muses, are rarely memorable or significant unless we know and recognise them for what they are at the time. When was the last time you found a toy in a cereal box, played in the park… or hugged a far away friend? When was the last time you actually saw a piece of theatre on a stage? There are so many last times at the moment that we can’t recall, and that bring back sometimes painful memories. The ordeal of live theatre as a distant memory may be nearly over for some, but nevertheless, it is brought to mind by Alice Corrigan’s emotional performance as she reflects on lost times, and on ghosts. The mental image of her crying black and orange through tiger make-up is a vivid image that sticks in the mind. Will this be the last time E-ssentials graces our screens? Surely not!
As Liam Fleming, who feels more like a friend than a host at this point, closes Bare Essentials 5: Far From Home it is clear that Encompass have made important work over the past five months. They have shown new writing and live theatre are not only possible but can thrive in the digital realm, and continue to push creative and technical boundaries while making us laugh and cry. I hope they have gained new audiences that they surely deserve and that this digital format, which has been a theatrical life raft to many, can stay afloat while the new live shows set sail.
Encompass Productions will return to live performance with Homecoming: A New Theatre Festival at The White Bear Theatre 10th – 14th November 2020